The EU was created in the aftermath of the Second World War. The first steps were to foster economic cooperation: the idea being that countries who trade with one another become economically interdependent and so more likely to avoid conflict. The result was the European Economic Community (EEC), created in 1958, and initially increasing economic cooperation between six countries: Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Later in 1993 was a name change from the EEC to the European Union. Since creation, a huge single market has been created and continues to develop towards its full potential.
With a combined population of over 500 million inhabitants, or 7.3% of the world population, the EU, in 2012, generated a nominal gross domestic product (GDP) of 16.584 trillion US dollars, representing approximately 20% of the global GDP when measured in terms of purchasing power parity, and represents the largest nominal GDP and GDP PPP in the world.
The EU is based on the rule of law: everything that it does is founded on treaties, voluntarily and democratically agreed by all member countries. These binding agreements set out the EU's goals in its many areas of activity. Since the 2009 signing of the Treaty of Lisbon, the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights brings all these rights together in a single document. The EU's institutions are legally bound to uphold them, as are EU governments whenever they apply EU law. Within the Schengen Area (which includes 22 EU and 4 non-EU states) passport controls have been abolished. The EU policies aim to ensure the free movement of people, goods, services, and capital,enact legislation in justice and home affairs, and maintain common policies on trade,agriculture, fisheries and regional development. In this way, the EU has delivered half a century of peace, stability and prosperity, helped raise living standards, and launched a single European currency, the euro.
The single or 'internal' market is the EU's main economic engine, enabling most goods, services, money and people to move freely. Another key objective is to develop this huge resource to ensure that Europeans can draw the maximum benefit from it and also make it attractive for others.